Learning to Fly: Practise doesn’t make perfect.

So, I had my new Baritone Uke, and a newfound enthusiasm. And I was really motivated. I was practising every day, I enjoyed it so much. But…..

I had a hang-up. My partner, Vasco, is a very good guitarist and I was not at all willing to practise in front of him. Never! Even though the Baritone Uke sounded better than the smaller ones, still the nylon strings and laminate body sounded really pitiful next to his beautiful wooden, steel-stringed guitar. I was embarrassed to let him hear all my mistakes, and there were plenty, trust me.


I made a couple of decisions, and whilst one was good, the other was definitely not so good.

The good decision – I’d come straight home from work and practise! I finished an hour before Vasco, so I used that time wisely. I’d get home from work, kick off the work boots, make a coffee and then pick up the Ukulele – for an hour every day. I’d work on my project songs, and then watch you-tube tutorials. Every day!

However, the second decision was not so good and has been very hard to fix. Advance tip -please don’t do this.

You see, later in the evenings, after our evening meal, I still wanted to practise, but I was worried that Vasco would hear my mistakes. Don’t get me wrong please, Vasco and I have a lovely relationship, but he was such a good player, and I was such a beginner…….I felt silly, and I don’t think anybody likes to feel like that in front of their spouse.
So I used to play really softly, so that only I could hear myself. And by doing this, I learned some very bad habits.

If I was playing chords, I wouldn’t play them fully on all strings and if I was fingerpicking, I wouldn’t pick evenly on all strings; I was too busy worrying about keeping it quiet. And it got worse! I was hunching over, trying to muffle the sound and watching my fingers to make sure I didn’t make mistakes! The end result was tension in every part of my body; tension from hunching, tension from breathing shallowly because I was trying to be quiet, tension from holding my hands wrongly to play quietly, tension, tension, tension.


The habits you form as a learner are the most important ones to get right. Even now, I am still trying to correct how I fingerpick. My thumb picks well, so does my index finger, but my middle finger does not hit the string correctly, because back then, I changed how I picked with that finger to muffle the noise. Instead of picking properly, I tilted the finger slightly. It is something that is taking a great deal of time to re-learn.

Whatever your home situation is, I beg of you, do not mute your playing when you are learning. Trust me, it is NOT the answer, it is one of the worst things you can do. You know, in my mind, I knew that Vasco did not care at all that I made mistakes, but he was so good, and I was so (comparitively) bad, that I couldn’t bear the thought of him hearing me.

I would love someone to comment. How do you practise when when you are embarassed to play your instrument, or when your family hates the music that you make? It’s not easy to be the only one in your family who loves the sound your Uke makes. I think there are plenty of us out there.

Learning to Fly – Pink Floyd. I know, I know. Tom Petty did a song called Learning to Fly also, but the Pink Floyd one is my pick. I must say though, that the video didn’t actually seem to have relevance to the meaning of song, or not to me at least.  Key of Em   G, Em,D  for the verse  with C, Am and F added in the chorus. Very basic, but Pink Floyd added lots of sus notes to their chords and tended to play in unusual tempos.

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4 thoughts on “Learning to Fly: Practise doesn’t make perfect.

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  1. Hi Jen, That sounds a really difficult situation you got yourself into without realising. It seems like you’re working out how to correct it now (Stu Fuchs and Phil Doleman have good videos on plying without tension, for example, if you’re looking for new tips – ask me if you need links).

    When I was at school, I learned violin and did the same – either avoided practicing all together or tried playing quietly (usually pizzicato, rather than bowing, as that always sounded screeching), so of course didn’t improve well!

    I took up uke a few years ago and luckily it’s much quieter. I play in a group (PLUC – see my signature) but still hate playing solo in front of others and make lots of mistakes when I feel exposed, as my fingers just seem to stop working. Performance anxiety is a major thing to get round – I’m in a similar situation, as some of our members are great players.

    One of our group uses an electro uke (I think he has a Risa travel stick) to practice on in his car and just doesn’t plug it into an amp, so that’s how he makes it quieter.

    I play a soprano, which is softer than baritone. Started off with a cheapo purple Mahalo and now have a Kala Bocote Butterfly, which can be played fairly quietly (I often practice late at night and live in a block of flats). I wonder if using a smaller instrument might help – you could still practice kindly and in a relaxed manner, but it would be in a different key to your baritone?

    All the best.

    Jeanette

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  2. P.S. I’m visiting a friend at the moment, so taking some of the lessons I mentioned and other warm-up exercises that work well for ‘silent’ practice (e.g. relaxed barre chords, moving hand up and down neck, least pressure needed for fingering notes, moving easily between tricky chords, muted strumming patterns etc) so I don’t disturb radio / TV in main living room. You can do a lot whilst being fairly quiet still and mindful of how you are playing.

    Jeanette

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    1. Jeanette, you hit the nail on the head with the words ‘performance anxiety’. I am sure if Vasco werent such a good musician, it wouldn’t have been a problem, but I was paranoid about making mistakes in front of him and that made me even more clumsy. I have very recently purchased a Concert Uke, and it is much quieter. Higher pitched, and different tuning, but lovely and quiet.

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      1. The concert uke should help you – if you’re playing alone the different tuning won’t matter. And you can try various tips for performance anxiety (Stu Fuchs gives a nice breathing exercise in one of his Ask Stu YouTubes in answer to my query on this, I think it’s number twelve).

        Ultimately, it’s just overcoming your own self-consciousness. I often put the radio or TV on as ‘background noise’ so my neighbours can’t hear me as much 🙂

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